Okuma, Shigenobu

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Okuma, Shigenobu

Shigenobu Okuma (shēgā´nōbōō ō´kōōmä), 1838–1922, Japanese statesman. He was an early supporter of the emperor and entered the Meiji government as finance minister in 1869. In 1876 he had the annual stipends of the former feudal aristocracy changed to payments in lump sums, with great saving for the state. His power in the government grew steadily, and by 1881 he was the only oligarch able or inclined to challenge the conservative and autocratic ideals of Hirobumi Ito. In 1881, Okuma publicly urged the government to set up a parliament and embarrassed the Ito clique by exposing their fraudulent scheme to sell government assets in Hokkaido. The oligarchs, fearing growing popular support for Okuma, persuaded the emperor to oust him. Okuma founded (1882) a reform party called the Kaishinto (a forerunner of the Minseito) and agitated for parliamentary government. However, Okuma's connections with the Mitsubishi business interests (see zaibatsu) were publicized, and his prestige, and that of democratic government, declined. As foreign minister (1888–89), he negotiated to revise the unequal treaties with the Western powers, which limited Japan's tariff autonomy and permitted extraterritoriality for Europeans. The bomb of a terrorist who opposed the Japanese government's attempt to find a compromise cost Okuma a leg. He again served as foreign minister in 1896 and 1897, and during this period the unequal clauses in the treaties were finally eliminated. In 1898 he and Itagaki merged their parties to form the Kenseito (Constitutional party) and Okuma served for a brief period as prime minister. During his second term as prime minister (1914–16) the army was expanded, and Japan, entering World War I on the Allied side, seized Kiaochow and presented China with the Twenty-one Demands.

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